Saturday, July 22, 2017

29.6 - Voter suppression by right wing continues

Voter suppression by right wing continues

I said last week I was going to put off talking about TheRump's "election fraud" commission because there were other things about voter suppression I wanted to address at the same time. So let's get to that right now.

The big recent headlines, of course, involve the so-called Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Those headlines hit when on June 28 the Commission sent a letter to all 50 states plus Washington, DC, asking for what information they had on registered voters, including and here I am quoting the letter,
full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen.
That is, they wanted to gather all that data on every registered voter in the US into one big federal database which they would control.

Happily, a lot of states did not take kindly to the idea. Among the more colorful responses came from Secretary of State of Mississippi, who told the commission to go jump in the Gulf of Mexico - in pretty much exactly those words.

There were a lot of varying claims about how many states refused to comply, with some saying only a handful did while others claimed only a handful didn't. The difference largely revolved around how you defined "comply": A good number of states said they would supply those parts of the information that are already publicly-available, that is, information that anyone could obtain, although some of them added that they wanted to arrange with the feds to be reimbursed for the costs of submitting this large an amount of data.

Some said they wouldn't comply at all, which it appears they were quite free to do since the commission may have violated the federal Paperwork Reduction Act, which requires that federal requests for information from states must go through the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs - which this one didn't.

Ultimately, most states will turn over some records but at least 44 states and Washington, DC, won't give the Commission everything it wanted.

In the face of that resistance and a suit by EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, seeking an injunction against the gathering of the data, the Commission put a hold on the effort, telling states to hold off until there is a ruling on EPIC's suit.

But while the gathering of information is on hold, the purpose of doing it is not. There is very little reason to doubt that one of the purposes of the Commission is to produce enough and I use the word very advisedly "evidence" to justify TheRump's claim that the only reason he lost the popular vote - which really seems to stick in his craw - was that "millions" of undocumented immigrants and others voted illegally.

Giving extra credence to that idea is the fact that Commission co-chair Kris Kobach said on July 19 that "we may never know" if Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in 2016 "because even if you can prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, you wouldn't know how they voted."

But for that argument to have any merit, you have to presuppose that you can show that at least 2.9 million illegal votes were cast, because that was Clinton's margin of victory in the popular vote, something Kobach apparently regards as quite likely to be and again I use the word very advisedly "proved" by the Commission.

But assuaging TheRump's easily-bruised ego is not the only reason for the Commission's existence. It's ultimate purpose is to continue and advance the right-wing's assault on the right to vote. Indeed, opposition to the right to vote runs in the veins of many of the Commission's members.

Consider Kris Kobach. He is perhaps the chief architect of the right-wing attack on voting rights. As Secretary of State of Kansas, he has repeatedly tried to make it harder for Kansans to vote. In 2016 he illegally blocked tens of thousands of eligible voters from registering. Beyond that, he pushed the racist conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya and in 2015, he said that it was possible that the Obama administration might ban all prosecutions of African-Americans.

Then there is Hans von Spakovsky. As an attorney in George Bush's Justice Department and against the advice of career DOJ attorneys, he approved a restrictive voter ID program in Georgia. He now is at the far-right Heritage Foundation, whose president openly admitted the group pushes voter ID requirements in order to elect "more conservative candidates."

Another member is J. Christian Adams. He is a longtime critic of the Voting Rights Act who claimed that under President Obama, the Justice Department's Voting Rights Division didn't spend enough time protecting white voters.

And don't forget Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State and now a senior fellow at the bigoted Family Research Council. In 2004 Blackwell actively hindered minority voter registration and voting in Ohio to support the reelection of George Bush. He endorses TheRump's claim of widespread illegal voting in 2016.

If that doesn't impress you, consider the group's actions. For one thing, Vice President Mike NotWorthAFarthing's office has confirmed the Commission intends to run the state voter rolls it wants to get against federal databases to check for "potential fraudulent registration," a plan that experts say, and the Commission must know because there is no way it could not know, is certain to produce thousands of false positives with potential loss of voting rights for many.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan group focusing on voting rights, has predicted some outgrowths of the work of the Commission, includin

-  proposals to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission, which is responsible for, among other things, guiding compliance with federal election law;
- pushing national and state voter ID laws and the fact that voter fraud, especially the sort that voter ID laws would address, is vanishingly rare be damned in order to embrace the other fact that such laws disproportionately disenfranchise minorities and the poor;
-demanding proof of citizenship as a condition for registering and supposedly, Kobach, who wanted to impose that in Kansas, already has an amendment drafted for that;
- and mandating aggressive purges of voter rolls, to be used to inflate claims of illegal voting to justify the other measures.

That last part - voter purges - is already being pushed. The same day that Kobach sent that letter to states looking for voter information, the Department of Justice also asked 44 states to send them information on their compliance with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, the NVRA. That law mandates certain state agencies (such as the DMV, leading to the nickname the "Motor Voter" law) provide citizens with the opportunity to register to vote and outlines specific conditions states must meet before removing people from the voting rolls. The focus of the law, that is, is to enable and encourage people to vote by making it easier to register.

However, even though the bulk of the NVRA is about making it easy to register to vote, the letter from the DOJ was only about the parts of the law related to keeping voter lists up-to-date, showing no concern as to whether states were doing enough to aid people in getting registered.

The result was that many saw the letter as a signal that the department was gearing up to force states to kick people off their rolls. And just like the cross-checking that NotWorthAFarthing wants to do, voter purges have been notorious for producing false positives, leaving voters - often minorities - to show up to the polls only to find that their registration has been wiped from the books and the deadline to re-register has already passed.

Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters, said that "It's very clear the intent is to purge more and more groups who possibly don't vote the way they want them to vote."

But this goes beyond - well beyond - the federal level. It's at the state level, too.

Because even though US turnout for election is already distressingly low - only 55.7 percent of voting-age Americans cast ballots in 2016 - that is still too high for many GOPper-controlled state legislatures.

At least 99 bills to restrict voting rights have been introduced or carried over from previous sessions in 31 states this year. The most common requirement is voter ID, demanding that voters produce some approved sort of ID at the polling place in order to vote - even though repeated studies have shown such in-person voter fraud to be, again, vanishingly rare.

But of course stopping fraud isn't the point of these laws, any more than the second-most popular requirement - demanding proof of citizenship to register - is. The Brennan Center estimates that millions of Americans lack the necessary documents or ID, an effect felt disproportionately among minorities, poor folks, and the young. The true point, that is, is keeping these disapproved groups of people from voting at all.

Consider what happens when GOPper state officials try to defend these laws as deterrents to fraud. when Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft was trying to build a case for his new voter ID law, he could only cite one potential instance of fraud, that from seven years earlier and it involved registration, which, again, voter ID laws do not cover. In 2013, Kris Kobach himself did a review of 84 million votes cast in 22 states and found just 14 instances of fraud - less than 0.00002 percent of votes - to send to prosecutors.

But they won't stop because they don't care. They don't care about stopping fraud, they don't care about honest elections, they don't care about election integrity - they only care about winning elections any way they can, including twisting both law and logic to deny those who do not embrace their reactionary worldview the most basic of democratic rights: the right to vote.

And now they can count on help from the top.

Since 2011, federal courts have determined that Texas's voter ID law, SB5, targets people of color for discrimination - have determined that not once, not twice, but three times. US District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos is considering if the legislature's latest attempt at a fix was good enough. The previous versions had been knocked down in part because the sweeping law listed seven acceptable forms of photo ID to be presented at the polling place, forms that clearly preference some voters over others. State-issued gun licenses, for instance, are acceptable but student IDs are not. According to the plaintiffs in the suit, the latest version - quoting -
maintains the same unexplained picking and choosing of 'acceptable' photo IDs for in-person voting - accepting IDs disproportionately held by Anglo voters and rejecting IDs disproportionately held by minority voters.
So in stomps the Justice Dept. of Attorney General Jeff "I am not a racist, I swear" Sessions to declare everything is fine, the law is fine, and all suits challenging SB5 should be dismissed because the court "has no basis" for providing any remedy. And the fact that this version has the same flaws as the earlier ones? They don't care - or, more accurately, they do care because that disparate impact is the purpose. It's not a bug, it's a feature.

They will not stop - so neither can we. This is something I have covered a lot over the years and I fully expect I will have cause to return to it not only now but repeatedly in the future.

29.5 - Clown Award: Donald TheRump

Clown Award: Donald TheRump

Now for one of our regular features, one we didn't get to last week but it's back and it seems may be our most popular feature, it's the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

We had some solid competition this week, some truly deserving applicants, so I will present to you the four finalists, presented in the order of finish.

Bringing up the rear, which is appropriate because he's a real ass, is Rep. Steve King of Iowa, a bigoted white supremacist who is surely in the running for the worst person in the world.

Not surprisingly, he wants to Build that wall! The House Appropriations Committee is proposing to allocate $1.6 billion toward it - but that's not enough IWouldBeKing. He wants an additional $5 billion for the wall - $500 million coming from Planned Parenthood's budget (which is nonsensical it itself since Planned Parenthood doesn't have an allocation in the federal budget, what it gets is reimbursement for services provided under Medicaid) and the rest coming out of Food Stamps, which KingMe says is double-plus good because Food Stamps, he says, are a leading cause of obesity.

If he really wants to reduce obesity, he could start with the fat in his head.

Next, there is Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California, who seems to have embraced the "I'm not a scientist" mentality of the right wing with a little more than the usual enthusiasm.

During the increasingly misnamed House Science Committee's hearings on NASA's budget for planetary exploration, Rohrabacher - who is, lord help us, on the committee - asked NASA scientist Kenneth Farley:
You have indicated that Mars was totally different thousands of years ago. Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?
Farley politely noted that it was billions of years ago, not thousands, and when Rohrabacher persisted, gently, as you would with a child, said the chances of a Martian civilization in the past are "extremely unlikely."

Would that was equally true of people like Rohrabacher.

Here the competition gets stiff.

On July 12, long-time Clinton family ally and adviser Paul Begala was grousing on CNN that TheRump's supporters don't seem sufficiently outraged about claims of Russian meddling in US affairs.

He fumed that, quoting,
We were and are under attack by a hostile foreign power ... and we should be debating how many sanctions we should place on Russia or whether we should blow up the KGB or GRU,
which is Russia's foreign intelligence agency.

You got it right: He is proposing we bomb Russia because TheRump' rumpers aren't ticked off enough.

Donald TheRump, pointing to his loose screw
What could top that? Glad you asked. This week, the Big Red Nose, I genuinely didn't want to do this but I just can't not do it, the Big Red Nose this week, wait for it, goes to Donald TheRump.

Speaking with reporters on Air Force One the night of July 12, His High Orangeness said that his proposed wall along the US-Mexico border would need to be see-through. Thus sayeth he:
One of the things with the wall is you need transparency. You have to be able to see through it. In other words, if you can't see through that wall - so it could be a steel wall with openings, but you have to have openings because you have to see what's on the other side of the wall.
Why? Because
when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don't see them - they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It's over.
So yes, you have to be able to see through the wall so you won't get hit on the head with a 60 pound bag of pot.

That's our commander in chief, our president, our national clown.

29.4 - Good News: federal court limits TheRump's travel ban

Good News: federal court limits TheRump's travel ban

Finally, one more bit of tempered Good News.

Okay, first, last month SCOTUS partly revived theRump's two stalled travel bans, one against people from six majority-Muslim nations, those being Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and the other against refugees. The high court said the bans could go into effect but would not apply to people with a "bona fide relationship" to a US person or entity.

TheRump's goons, naturally, interpreted that provision narrowly, saying it only applied to people with a parent, sibling, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, or son- or daughter-in-law in the US.

Federal Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii found that description was too narrow and, noting the more expansive modern understanding of the term "family," broadened the interpretation to cover grandparents, grandchildren, brothers- and sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of those in the US.

Which clearly is Good News. When TheRump's goons went to SCOTUS looking to get that ruling overturned, they were rebuffed on travelers from the six majority-Muslin nations - which is more Good News.

So what's the tempered part? The justices put a hold on Judge Watson's ruling as it applies to refugees while the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals considers a separate appeal on the same issue.

So the narrower interpretation still applies to refugees. Which does temper the Good News of continued legal resistance to TheRump's paranoid bigotry - but doesn't have to deny it.

29.3 - Good News: conviction of Desiree Fairooz overturned

Good News: conviction of Desiree Fairooz overturned

Okay, continuing with the theme of tempered good news, I think I told you a while back about the case of Desiree Fairooz, a Code Pink protester who made the mistake of letting out a quick laugh during the confirmation hearings of Jeff "I'm not a racist, I swear" Sessions as attorney general. Astonishingly, she was convicted. of Laughing.

The Good News is that on July 14, Chief Judge Robert Morin of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia threw out the conviction.

The tempered part is that he did it because the prosecutor had said in closing arguments that the laugh alone was enough for conviction, not any disruption she may have caused as she objected to being dragged out of the visitors' gallery for nothing more than laughing. The judge said the laugh alone was not enough to send the case to the jury.

But instead of dismissing the charge, he ordered a new trial for September 1. So the prosecution has a second chance to achieve what is still the same goal: punish her for laughing, this time with guidance from the court as to the best way to do it.

29.2 - Good News: 3rd Circuit recognizes "right to record" cops in public

Good News: 3rd Circuit recognizes "right to record" cops in public

In another bit of tempered Good News on a somewhat related topic, in July 7, a panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the First Amendment protects an individual's right to film police officers performing their official duties in public, ruling that "The First Amendment protects the public's right of access to information about their officials' public activities."

The 3rd Circuit now joins the 1st, 5th, 7th, 9th, and 11th Circuits in concluding that the Constitution guarantees such a "right to record." No federal appeals court has ruled the other way.

So why tempered Good News? Well, for one thing, cops keep doing it - keep telling people that they, the cops, are exempt from being observed by mere non-cops; they keep arresting people, even assaulting people, destroying cameras, because we are apparently supposed to walk around with our eyes cast down and never record anything a cop does - except, of course, for the planned and choreographed PR photoshoots.

Even more, the 3rd circuit also ruled - by a 2-1 vote - that the two Philadelphia cops involved in this case have what's called "qualified immunity" against suits - meaning they walk away untouched - because the right to record, it said, was not "clearly established" at the time, and ruled that way even though at the time of the incidents involved, three circuits has already found a right to record and even more to the point, they happened after the Philadelphia Police Department had recognized that right.

Which is another reason cops keep doing it: They have learned, like the most cliched spoiled brat, that there are no consequences for wrong behavior.

Still, there is the decision about the right to record, so yeah, tempered Good News.

29.1 - Good News: cops charged with hiding evidence

Good News: cops charged with hiding evidence

Starting out with some Good News - although there is sort of a theme that developed, as you will see.

But we start with Good News out of bad news.

On Oct 20, 2014, Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke killed LaQuan McDonald. More than a year later, a suit forced the city to release the dashcam video of the incident - which proved that McDonald was walking away from Van Dyke when Van Dyke shot him. As McDonald lay on the ground, Van Dyke proceeded to shoot him fifteen more times.

When the video came out, Van Dyke was charged with six counts of murder and later with 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. His trial has yet to begin.

So what's the Good News? Last month, three Chicago cops were indicted on state felony charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct for conspiring to cover up the facts of the shooting by mishandling key evidence, lying on official reports describing what happened, and giving false information to the medical examiner's officer.

The three - Detective David March and patrol officers Joseph Walsh and Thomas Gaffney - allegedly lied in an attempt to stop the public from seeing the video recording of the shooting because they knew that would lead to a thorough investigation and likely criminal charges.

So the Good News is that as the result of the tragedies and protests of the past few years we as a society seem a little more willing to at least consider holding cops responsible for their actions - and the fact that this indictment is a direct blow against the "blue wall of silence" is even better.

Unfortunately, while we seem to have gotten a little better at charging cops when they needlessly kill, we seem no better at convicting them. So consider this very tempered Good News.

What's Left #29




What's Left
for the weeks of July 20 - August 3, 2017

This week:

Good News: cops charged with hiding evidence
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/3-chicago-cops-charged-in-cover-up-of-laquan-mcdonald-shooting_us_5952ad8ee4b02734df2e0972
http://fusion.kinja.com/cop-who-killed-teenager-jordan-edwards-has-been-indicte-1796993242
http://www.mystateline.com/news/national/expolice-officer-ray-tensing-will-not-be-tried-again-in-fatal-shooting/768391722
http://www.newson6.com/story/35836756/third-mistrial-declared-in-kepler-case-due-to-hung-jury

Good News: 3rd Circuit recognizes "right to record" cops in public
http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2017/07/07/third_circuit_affirms_the_constitutional_right_to_record_police_officers.html

Good News: conviction of Desiree Fairooz overturned
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/protester-laughed-jeff-sessions-sentenced_us_5967de92e4b0d6341fe7a9e2

Good News: federal court limits TheRump's travel ban
https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/07/19/supreme-court-partly-rejects-trump-latest-travel-ban-fight/23037927/
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hawaii-judge-loosens-travel-ban-to-allow-grandparents-other-relatives-2017-07-13
https://twitter.com/chrisgeidner/status/885705045253263361

Clown Award: Donald TheRump
http://thehill.com/policy/finance/341626-rep-steve-king-build-mexico-border-wall-with-funds-from-planned-parenthood
https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/7/18/1681843/-Republican-congressman-asks-NASA-whether-we-have-found-civilizations-on-Mars-for-real
http://www.thedailybeast.com/clinton-ally-paul-begala-trump-should-consider-bombing-russia
http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-border-wall-mexico-drugs-2017-7

Voter suppression by right wing continues
http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2017/images/06/30/peic.letter.to.maine[2].pdf
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/white-house/article162544243.html?#emlnl=Afternoon_Newsletter
http://thehill.com/regulation/other/340738-voter-fraud-commission-may-have-violated-law
http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/03/politics/kris-kobach-letter-voter-fraud-commission-information/index.html
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-vote-idUSKBN19V29W?feedType=RSS&feedName=newsOne&google_editors_picks=true
https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/07/19/a-leader-of-trumps-voter-fraud-panel-said-we-may-never-know-i/23038307/
http://www.pfaw.org/report/trumps-election-integrity-commission-the-lies-and-the-cold-hard-facts/
https://www.propublica.org/article/election-experts-see-flaws-trump-voter-commissions-plan-to-smoke-out-fraud?utm_campaign=weekly-newsletter&utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email
https://www.brennancenter.org/voter-fraud-commissions-likely-agenda
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/kris-kobach-donald-trump-voter-fraud_us_5960efe9e4b0d5b458eac01d
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/doj-nvra-letter-voter-purge-signals
http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/elections/states-push-new-voter-requirements-fueled-trump-n780611?cid=public-rss_20170711&google_editors_picks=true
https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/resources-voter-fraud-claims
https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/7/10/1679407/-Trump-s-voter-suppression-effort-takes-hold-in-Republican-controlled-states
https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/7/7/1678654/-Thrice-stricken-Texas-voter-ID-law-gets-the-all-clear-from-Jeff-Sessions-Justice-Department
https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2017/07/06/justice-department-texas-voter-law-fixed
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/search?q=voter+id&max-results=20&by-date=true

Sunday, July 16, 2017

28.4 - For the Record: Yemen, GOPpers and education, Nevada marijuana, Belgium's niqab ban, and voter ID

For the Record: Yemen, GOPpers and education, Nevada marijuana, Belgium's niqab ban, and voter ID

Finally for this week, we have an occasional feature called For the Record, where we cover several items briefly just to make sure they do not pass unnoted.

So first up, For the Record: A quick follow-up on last week's Outrage of the Week about Yemenis that according to the Red Cross, the number of cholera cases there has surpassed 300,000.

For the Record: According to a new poll by Pew Research, a majority of GOPpers now maintain that colleges and universities are bad for America, that they, in the words of the poll question, are "having a positive or negative effect on the way things are going in the country these days." 58% of those polled felt that way, an increase of 21 percentage points since 2015 as they adjust their brains to get in tune with the age of TheRump.

For the Record: On July 7, Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada issued a "statement of emergency." You see, recreational marijuana became legal in Nevada on July 1 and retailers already were running out of stock to sell.

Turns out the problem was a legal snafu because the places that are licensed to sell recreational marijuana don't have the authority to restock their inventory on their own but must obtain it through alcohol wholesalers licensed to be distributors - and no such licenses had been issued.

The statement of emergency allows for a wider range of applicants for the distribution licenses than just those alcohol retailers.

A quick sidebar: One of the objections to legalized marijuana is that the areas around retailers would be magnets for crime.

But according to a new study out of the University of California at Irvine, when Los Angeles used new regulations to close down 439 medical marijuana dispensaries in 2010, crime in the those immediate areas rose 12% while crime in the areas around the dispensaries allowed to remain open was unchanged. That echoed a finding from Denver, where the Police Department saw that through the first nine months of 2010, crime was down 8.2% from the previous year after a dispensary was opened in the neighborhood.

For the Record: In what I find a rather disturbing development, on July 11 the European Court of Human Rights upheld a ban imposed in Belgium on wearing the full-face niqab veil in public. The court ruled that the restriction was for "social cohesion," the "protection of the rights and freedoms of others," and was "necessary in a democratic society."

A woman wearing the niqab
While I realize the niqab has for many become a symbol of the oppression of women under Islam, I still admit to being very uncomfortable with the idea that we can define for others what they will find oppressive and that "social cohesion" is "necessary," particularly when you consider what sorts of oppression such terms have justified in the past.

Finally for this week, For the Record: ProPublica has an interview with a former member of the Wisconsin legislature who now regrets his support for the voter suppression goals of Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou. Better late than never, I suppose, although regrets don't change the laws imposed and a better way to express regret would be to actively campaign to get those laws overturned.

I bring this up because voter ID and voter suppression have again become headlines in the wake of the demands of TheRump's so-called Presidential Advisory Commission On Election Integrity for all sorts of information about every registered voter in the US. I didn't address that this week because there are some other things as well going on about voter suppression and I want to address them together, which I will next week.

28.3 - Net neutrality under serious threat

Net neutrality under serious threat

Some warnings
This is something I have talked about in the past but not very recently, but it is of particular importance now: Net neutrality.

If you were online any time on Wednesday, July 12, you may have come across warning screens like those shown here. That's because July 12 was a day of action to defend Net neutrality.

At least 234 websites representing corporations, activist groups, and plain folks spent the day trying to alert anyone who came by to the serious risk that Net neutrality may be killed off. Some of the nation's largest tech companies - such as Microsoft and Google - and some of the biggest online sites - such as Twitter, Snapchat, Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon - took part.

Net neutrality, simply, is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) treat everyone's data equally; a bit is a bit is a bit and every bit is the same as every other bit - whether that's a bit from an email from your mother, an episode of House of Cards on Netflix, a bank transfer, the day's news on your favorite newspaper's website, or whatever. It means that outfits such as Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon don’t get to say that this data is sent more quickly than that data because those sending this data paid us extra money so all those who waiting for that data will just have to wait and watch the spiral or whatever go around and around. Assuming, of course, that data isn't for a site that has been blocked entirely for failing to come up with enough cash.

Put another way, it's the principle that a handful of giant corporations, riding on the back of technology actually developed by the federal government and some universities, can't manipulate the market - the market in this case being those companies and individuals who use the Internet - can't manipulate the market to line their pockets.

And if the business about "treating all data equally" still isn't clear, think of it this way: It's how your telephone works. All telephone calls are treated the same.

And for obvious reasons, outfits like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon hate the idea of Net neutrality and have been campaigning, lobbying, and suing against it for years.

Despite some short-term legal victories, they failed. Due to a massive public outpouring of support for Net neutrality, in February 2015, the FCC voted to reclassify broadband service providers as "common carriers" under title II, meaning in effect they are regarded as public utilities, giving the FCC the ability to set rates, open up access to competitors, and more closely regulate the industry - and, most importantly here, to enshrine Net neutrality as law as part of those regulations.

So what's the problem? The problem, in two words, is Ajit Pai. He is the new chair of the FCC whose only work experience outside of government was as general counsel for Verizon and he is full-out for repealing the 2015 regulations, leaving us at the mercy of the corporate overlords for who he used to work. He introduced a rule to do exactly that which is now in the period for public comments.

It is that proposed rollback of the 2015 rules that was the target of the day of action on July 12.

Net neutrality is, to be quite blunt, the spiritual heart, the philosophical core, of the Internet. It is the operating principle on which the Net was founded when it was just a federal agency and a handful of universities and on which it has grown. In fact, it is what enabled it to grow, the fact that it was equally open, and open on an equal basis, to all participants, not just an elite handful of technocrats and technophiles. Yes, of course, it started that way, it started all technocrats and technophiles, but that principle of neutrality insured it was not going to stay that way.

And people know it. In fact, Net neutrality is overwhelmingly popular among Americans.

According to a recent survey from Politico and Morning Consult, 60% of Americans support the current rules and only 17% want to change them.

According to a poll done for Freedman Consulting, the figure is even higher: 77% support keeping the existing Net neutrality rules in place. In both polls, the support was bipartisan, with Democrats, Republicans, and Independents registering similar levels of support.

You want more evidence of how popular Net neutrality is? That July 12 day of action generated an astounding two million comments to the FCC backing it.

It's so popular, in fact, that Pai finds it necessary to claim that he supports "the principle" of net neutrality. He does that without being really clear about what that means and without laying out any means to enforce it except by proposing to turn enforcement over to the Federal Trade Commission - which lacks the authority to make rules and unless Congress proposes an entirely new law - something Pai knows as well as you ain't gonna happen anytime soon - could only enforce vague "principles" and then only on a case-by-case basis in response to a complaint, that is, after something has already gone wrong.

Pai has also, notably, frequently referred to the "open" Internet as if that was supposed to be synonymous with Net neutrality, but it isn't.

Ajit Pai
Back in 2015, at the time the FCC was acting, a former chair of the commission, Michael Powell, who was even more overtly pro-corporate than Pai is, also referred to "open Internet principles," which he defined as "freedom to access content, to run applications, to attach devices, and to obtain service plan information" - "freedoms," which I noted at the time, did not include the freedom to access content on an equal basis without being throttled or otherwise hindered because the site I was trying to access couldn't afford the big bucks that some other site could. In other words, did not include the freedom that was at the very heart of the issue.

Now we have another pro-corporate chair mouthing the same platitudes about an "open" Internet. Extreme caution is called for.

Especially because Pai has defended his desire to service the corporations with some pretty bizarre arguments which would cause most folks' jaws to drop were we not in the age of TheRump.

For example, he has said "we cannot stick with regulations from the Great Depression that were meant to micromanage Ma Bell." I'll just say that the notion that Bell Telephone was "micromanaged" will come as a shock to anyone old enough to remember that the Bell System was broken up in 1984 because it was an illegal monopoly actively stifling competition - or, for that matter, anyone old enough to remember Lily Tomlin.

He also claimed that strong Net neutrality rules in the US would give dictators an excuse to tighten their grip over the Internet in their countries - which I frankly think shouldn't even require a response beyond "Whut?"

And he said that the 2015 rules were established based on "hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom."

That does require a response, and it's that the fact is, we had already seen those harms. There was nothing hypothetical about them. In 2014, during negotiations over access, Comcast throttled Netflix, slowing transmission speeds by nearly 30% until Netflix agreed to come up with the cash for a so-called "paid peering" deal. That deal and others like it were scuttled by the 2015 regulations, but it doesn't change the fact that the supposedly "hypothetical" harms, paying for access and being throttled when you don't, have already happened.

We have, that is, already seen what will happen if net neutrality goes by the boards. It won't happen all at once, of course, they know better than to spark a backlash even bigger than the actual current proposal to undo Net neutrality, which has gotten over 5 million comments, the vast majority of them negative. But it is what they are after and it is what they will do if not stopped.

The period for public comment on the proposed rule - which again, is to undo the 2015 rules securing Net neutrality - runs through July 18. If there is still time, you might want to drop the FCC a line.

Oh, and if you're wondering why you haven't heard more about this? Part of the reason could be that NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC are all owned by Comcast.

28.2 - Outrage of the Week: Enforcement of immigration laws cruel, based on bigotry

Outrage of the Week: Enforcement of immigration laws cruel, based on bigotry

Now for one of our regular features. This is the Outrage of the Week.

I had this as the Outrage of the Week just about maybe five or six weeks ago. It is making a return appearance because it is an ongoing outrage. It is immigration.

We start by noting that for several years the administration of the Amazing Mr. O enforced immigration laws so aggressively that they deported undocumented immigrants in greater numbers than any previous administration. By 2014, though, they apparently had a change of heart or they were just embarrassed by the increasing attention being paid to this stain on the Obama liberal escutcheon into taking a different road. Whatever the reason, the Obama administration instructed immigration officials to exercise more discretion in who they targeted for deportation.

At that time, in 2014, in deciding about moving for deportation, the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or I.C.E. or ICE, were told to consider factors such as the length of time an immigrant had lived in the country, their family or community ties, and whether they had a young child or a seriously ill relative. TheRump's gang explicitly rescinded those guidelines almost immediately after the inauguration and told Immigration to enforce the law “to the greatest extent practicable.”

Despite that, agency officials insisted and still insist that "ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of national security and public safety threats." Or, as TheRump put it, they're going after the "bad hombres."

A well-named agency
They are lying.

A recent article on ProPublica details how ICE agents, under a directive from the head of its enforcement unit, are told to take action against any undocumented immigrant they encounter while on duty. Not that they "may" take action, which still allows for at least some degree of discretion, but that they "will" do so.

David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, said "The memo explains what we have actually been seeing on the ground," that immigrants without criminal backgrounds are routinely being arrested and ordered deported.

People have been arrested for deportation on their way to their senior prom, on the way to the hospital to pick up their newborn child after emergency surgery, even at an ICE office when they voluntarily came in for what was supposed to be a routine check-in, even when they voluntarily came in to discuss how they could obtain legal status. Sometimes the arrests seemed designed to be mocking: A group of ICE officers had breakfast at a restaurant in Michigan - and after the mean arrested three of the restaurant's workers.

Andres Magana Ortiz was an undocumented immigrant who had lived in the US for nearly thirty years. He has an American wife and three US-born children. During his time here he worked his way from migrant coffee farmer to owning his own land and being prominent in Hawaii's coffee industry, even to helping the US Department of Agriculture conduct a five-year study into a destructive insect species harming coffee crops and helping run 15 other small farms.

He lost his fight to not be deported US despite letters of support from Hawaii's entire congressional delegation and the judge in his case, who, while legally unable to stop Ortiz's deportation, wrote a scathing opinion saying that that “the government decision shows that even the 'good hombres' are not safe.” On July 7, Ortiz "voluntarily" left for Mexico, just days before he was to be deported.

Jesus Lara Lopez is an undocumented worker in a Pepperidge Farm food packaging plant. Like many undocumented workers, he lived for years under the radar, working in the fields picking fruits and vegetables. He has no criminal record. He has supported his family. He has paid taxes. He has never used any form of public assistance, not even unemployment. He is being deported on July 18.

Francisco Javier Gonzalez came to the US, alone, when he was 15. He graduated high school and went to college but couldn't graduate because he couldn't prove he was here legally. He now manages a successful restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida. He has an American wife and three US-born children. He has no criminal record and yes, he pays all his taxes. He was to be deported to Mexico on July 14 but got an almost literal last minute 3-month delay.

What is the point of deporting people like these? What is the gain in throwing them out? What is the loss in allowing them to stay?

What is accomplished by this beyond satisfying the white-supremicist desires of the bigoted xenophobes occupying the upper reaches of the TheRump administration?

And the case of Ortiz raises something else: Ignore for the moment that he is by the usual way such stories were told to us as we grew up, a classical, almost cliche, American success story, rising from migrant laborer to land owner, businessperson, upstanding figure in the community. Ignore all that and for the moment just focus on the fact that he has been here for nearly thirty years. And it didn't matter.

Because there is no sort of statute of limitations on being an "illegal" immigrant. No matter how long you have been here, no matter how many and how thick are the roots you have set down, no matter how stable is the life you have established, no matter how much you have contributed to your community, it doesn't matter.

Think about that. There is no statute of limitations. Except for murder, terrorism, and sexual crimes against children, federal law has statutes of limitations for all sorts of crimes and all kinds of civil offenses - which by the way, is what being an undocumented immigrant is; it's a civil offense, not a criminal one. We have federal statutes of limitations for kidnapping, for fraud, for racketeering, for embezzlement, for all sorts of the most serious crimes. But not for being an undocumented immigrant. Two years, ten years, thirty years, fifty years, it makes no difference.

This to me is insane.

Even the notoriously anti-immigration - and note well that I didn't say anti-undocumented immigration, I said anti-immigration - the notoriously anti-immigration Mark Krikorian, even he a few years ago allowed as how even as he disagreed with it as a matter of policy, the idea that an undocumented immigrant who has been in the US for three years (his time frame) and has put down roots here should not be deported, that idea "at least makes a certain kind of sense."

So yes, there should be a time limit. There should be some sort of statute of limitations. There should be a point beyond which being able to show roots in the community and an established life will free you from the daily fear of discovery and deportation, the daily fear of the ripping up of your life and the ripping apart of your family. We can talk about what that limit should be, realizing that any limit would be somewhat arbitrary, and I do have my own idea for if you will an opening bid on that discussion, which I will hold aside for now to focus on the central point that there should be such a limit.

But instead, what we have is a thoroughly-broken system enforced by the well-named ICE because it is cold-hearted to its core, now directed by an administration chock full of bigoted xenophobes who don't care who they deport as long as they can eject "foreigners," eject "them," eject "the other," which they then have the unintentionally-revealing gall to call "enhancing public safety."

They are without mercy. They are without compassion. They are without understanding. They are without humanity.

They and the system they oversee are an outrage.

28.1 - Good News: Florida court declares state "Stand Your Ground" Law unconstitutional

Good News: Florida court declares state "Stand Your Ground" Law unconstitutional

Starting out the week, as we always like to, with some Good News, we see that on July 3, a state circuit judge in Florida ruled that the state's updated "stand your ground" law is unconstitutional. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch found that the amended law exceeded legislative authority and effectively ignored guidelines already set down by the state Supreme Court.

Since it's sometimes unclear what these laws are, a brief and oversimplified explanation: Traditionally, people who felt their lives were in danger from some threat had a "duty to retreat" - that is, a duty to leave the situation, to back down from a confrontation - before they could legally use lethal force and claim self-defense. In other words, in order to claim self-defense as a defense against a charge of killing someone, you had to show that you could not have defended yourself by simply leaving the situation. Exceptions were made for places such as your own home; that is, you did not have a duty to retreat from your own home.

"Stand your ground" laws, at bottom, remove the "duty to retreat" and you can use lethal force if you feel you are at risk of imminent death or great bodily harm. The Florida "stand your ground" law, passed in 2005, specifically gave people the right to "shoot first" in such cases and allowed judges to dismiss charges on the grounds of a "reasonable" claim of self-defense.

The predictable result was that the average annual number of "justifiable homicides" in Florida tripled over the ensuing five years. And in fact a study published last fall in the journal "JAMA Internal Medicine" (JAMA of course being the "Journal of the American Medical Association," likely the nation's leading medical journal) found a connection with an overall increase in homicides in the state in the years following the law's passage: a 24% increase in the monthly homicide rate and a 32% increase in the monthly rate for homicides involving guns.

In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court stiffened the requirements of the law, saying that defendants had to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution.

So what did Florida do? The legislature, with the support of Gov. Voldemort and at the urging of the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America, otherwise known as the NRA, simply re-wrote the law to put the burden on prosecutors to prove with "clear and convincing" evidence that the defendant was not acting in self-defense.

It was that requirement that Judge Hirsch found an unconstitutional breach of the authority of the state supreme court.

This doesn't undo the law, obviously, and it is still possible his decision will be overturned - but anything that puts limits or the brakes on the sort of pumped-up wild West fantasizing driving these sorts of bills and the deaths that result from them is Good News.

Quick Footnote: Prosecutors in Florida were vehemently against the updated law because they believed it made it easier for defendants to get away from murder, as in fact the record clearly shows it does. Isn't it interesting how the right-wingers are all about supporting the police and supporting law enforcement and being against crime - until it involves something desired by the gun nuts, as this was, at which point the opinions of cops and prosecutors and so on no longer count?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

What's Left #28




What's Left
for the week of July 14-20, 2017

This week:

Good News: Florida court declares state "Stand Your Ground" Law unconstitutional
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/07/03/floridas-stand-your-ground-law-ruled-unconstitutional-by-judge.html
http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/11/27/florida-sees-killings-increase-after-passage-stand-your-ground-gun-law-study-says.html

Outrage of the Week: Enforcement of immigration laws cruel, based on bigotry
https://www.propublica.org/article/he-was-about-to-pick-up-his-newborn-son-after-surgery-arrested-by-ice
https://www.propublica.org/article/ice-officers-told-to-take-action-against-all-undocumented-immigrants
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-deportations-20170204-story.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2017/06/239-outrage-of-week-even-undocumented.html
https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/7/10/1679362/-Hawaii-coffee-farmer-loses-deportation-fight-after-nearly-three-decades-in-U-S
http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2017/07/jesus_lara_lopez_1.html
https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/mark-krikorian-the-provocateur-standing-in-the-way-of-immigration-reform/2013/06/17/dff0bd52-d75e-11e2-a9f2-42ee3912ae0e_story.html
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/377551/statute-limitations-illegal-immigration-mark-krikorian

Net neutrality under serious threat
http://digg.com/2017/net-neutrality-website-protests?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email
https://www.battleforthenet.com/july12/#participants
https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2017/07/11/net-neutrality-day-action-heres-what-happen/460459001/
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jul/12/ajit-pai-fcc-net-neutrality-open-internet?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email
https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/12/15715030/what-is-net-neutrality-fcc-ajit-pai-bill-rules-repealed
http://thehill.com/policy/technology/339137-poll-60-percent-of-voters-support-fccs-net-neutrality-rules
https://www.scribd.com/document/353285485/Freedman-Consulting-Net-Neutrality-Poll
http://www.npr.org/2017/04/29/526157951/a-primer-on-the-future-of-net-neutrality-under-trump
https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/02/ajit-pai-net-neutrality-will-help-foreign-leaders-control-the-internet/
http://thehill.com/policy/technology/334743-fcc-opens-public-comment-period-for-net-neutrality
https://medium.com/theyoungturks/comcast-spends-millions-in-lobbying-on-net-neutrality-without-their-news-networks-disclosing-their-499b3d9cb6dd

For the Record: Items on Yemen, GOPper and education, Nevada marijuana, Belgium's niqab ban, and voter ID
http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/07/10/536440875/suspected-cholera-cases-pass-300-000-in-yemen-red-cross-says
https://www.dailykos.com/story/2017/7/12/1679942/-More-Republicans-believe-colleges-have-a-negative-impact-says-new-Pew-study
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/college-campus-free-speech-republicans-conservatives
https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/07/10/nevada-sold-out-of-legal-marijuana-so-quickly-the-governor-want/23024226/
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/shutting-medical-marijuana-dispensaries-raises-crime-rates-article-1.3321353
http://www.dailystar.com.lb//News/World/2017/Jul-11/412378-top-europe-court-upholds-ban-on-full-face-veil-in-belgium.ashx
https://www.propublica.org/article/a-wisconsin-republican-looks-back-with-regret-at-voter-id-and-redistricting

Sunday, July 09, 2017

27.7 - Thoughts prompted by the Fourth

Thoughts prompted by the Fourth

The is the week after July 4th and as usual I didn’t think about a holiday until after it had happened so I didn't talk about it last when when I should have. Nonetheless, let me say now that I hope you enjoyed your Fourth and I hope you got to see some fireworks and  to spend time with friends or family or better yet both and what with the Fourth being on Tuesday and all that, I hope you got the extra day off for beach or barbecue or baseball or whatever.

So still being in the afterglow of the Fourth, I wanted to end this week's show on this. Quote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light or transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
These words should form the backdrop against which the Fourth is seen. Our national birthday should not be a time for celebrating the status quo or for patting ourselves on the back in an orgy of national self-congratulation, but rather a time to reexamine and rediscover the truly revolutionary heritage which America has.

Even more than that, it should be a time to rededicate ourselves to the ideas and ideals of the Declaration, to recognize that it is, as the Declaration says, our right and our duty to resist invasion of our unalienable rights.

It is our duty to resist the CIA and FBI and NSA when they try to poke, prod, pry, and probe into every secret of our private lives;

it is our duty to resist attempts to muzzle, restrict, intimidate, and otherwise restrain freedom of speech, of assembly, and of the press;

it is our duty to resist a militarist US foreign policy that is at war in multiple nations and a militarist US federal budget that proposes to spend an overall total of $825 billion on the military and our various wars this next year while human needs go unmet and racial and other injustices go unaddressed;

it is our duty to resist governmental policies that favor big business at the expense of the general public, that favor the rich over the poor, the haves over the have-nots.

We here at What’s Left do not believe in violence, but we do believe in revolution - nonviolent revolution. And we believe that we are fully within the revolutionary heritage of America when we say we believe it is our duty to demand our rights and our duty to make the changes necessary to secure those rights, for ourselves and for all others.

Our heritage as Americans includes a great many idealistic values - but the conservative appeal to the worst in our heritage: to selfishness, to suspicion, to fear, and to “what's-in-it-for-me.”

Which raises something I have been meaning to talk about, something that I think clearly divides the left from the right, indeed impacts whether you are a person of the left or the right. It’s called reification and it is the ability to perceive an abstraction as a reality.

It’s often described in negative terms, using as typical examples people who convince themselves that Sherlock Holmes was a real person or that Hogwarts is a real place.

But it also means having the ability to see the reality that lies behind the abstractions of statistics.

Consider health insurance and the fact that 22 million people will lose their coverage under the latest proposed version of TheRump care. To the right, that’s a number, a statistic, a politically unfortunate statistic to be explained away, yes, but still a statistic. To the left, it’s 22 million actual people, 22 million living, breathing, struggling, human beings who will have less access to health care - and therefore be at real risk of dying years before they should. That ability, that ability to perceive the very real people who make up that number, is reification and that is an ability at which the left far exceeds the right, even that, again, helps determine which side of that divide you are on.

Put bluntly, the right’s vision of reality is constrained by the selfish devotion to “me and mine” above all else, as that inability to reify limits a sense of connection to a wider world, it limits the range of what seems real to them.

That’s why they speak of the personal but never of the public; of self but never others; of us and them but never we; of family but never of community.

In fact, they are largely incapable of talking of community, because that means to talk of social obligations, of moral commitments to others, including to people you will never know, never meet, commitments which their circumscribed view can’t comprehend, indeed rejects.

But we not only affirm community, we celebrate it. So instead of rejecting community, what we ultimately reject is the right of so few to have so much when so many have so little. What we ultimately resist is the power of so few to control so much when so many control so little. What we ultimately affirm is the right of every human being to a decent life free of hunger, fear, and oppression. What we ultimately demand from our society is the effort to guarantee that right.

We’ve no desire to place a ceiling over anyone's aspirations, but we do want to put a floor under everyone's needs.

Because compassion is not a cliche; it’s a requirement of our humanity. Decency isn’t for case-by-case convenience but must be a basic social tenet. And justice is not a prerogative of the powerful but a basic human right and it must be protected as such.

We don’t dream of perfection, of idealized utopias, but of simple human justice. Justice in its truest sense: economic, social, and political. A justice that rejects the ascendancy of bombs over bread, of private greed over public good, of profits over people, a justice that rejects the ascendancy of the powerful few over the disadvantaged many and of the powerful many over the disadvantaged few. A justice that centers on the preciousness of life and will fight to maintain and even expand that preciousness.

That sort of justice won’t come easily. It won’t come cheaply. And it won’t come conveniently. But it is possible - and, after all is said and done, it simply is the only right thing to do.

That is our banner, the banner the radical nonviolent American left carries for the Fourth: Justice. Compassion. Community.

A banner for the next American revolution.

27.6 - Outrage of the Week: war crimes in Yemen

Outrage of the Week: war crimes in Yemen

Now for our other regular feature; this is the Outrage of the Week.

The poorest country in the Middle East is Yemen. And it has been in a bloody civil war since late 2014.

I'm not going to even try to disentangle the history of the war; I will just note that the actual current round of fighting, which is not the first Yemen has seen, broke out when Houthi rebels seized control of Sana'a, the Yemeni capital, in September 2014. A few months later, they seized the presidential compound, forcing President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee the country in late February 2015.

Since then, the fighting between supporters of the Hadi government on the one side - with outside aid coming from the US via drone strikes and from Saudi Arabia via blockades and an air campaign - and the Houthi on the other - with outside aid from Iran - has continued and gotten more vicious over time.

Despite the on-going brutality and suffering, neither side has gained a decisive advantage.

What has happened is that upwards of 10,000 have died in what the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs calls "the forgotten war." The health service there has "completely collapsed" and health workers have been working without pay for more than six months. UNICEF reports that of the total population of 27 million people, an estimated 21.2 million, nearly 80% of the total, need humanitarian assistance of some kind. Half of that number is children.

Of that 27 million, 3.3 million, more than 10 percent of the entire population, have been forced from their homes. Around 17 million people in the country are "food insecure," meaning they don't know from one day to the next if there will be enough food to eat, and 6.8 million of them "one step away from famine." There are 1.5 million malnourished children the country, 370,000 of them severely malnourished.

And over two-thirds of the people of Yemen lack access to safe drinking water, which has in turn lead to the worst outbreak of cholera in the world, an outbreak that is getting worse by almost any measure.

By the end of June, there were nearly 250,000 reported cases of cholera in Yemen, with thousands more every week. Already 1,500 have died. More die every day.

And at this point let's be absolutely clear about two things:

One, as noted in April by Idriss Jazairy, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and international sanctions, it is the air and sea blockade imposed on Yemen by Saudi Arabia that is the biggest single cause of this humanitarian catastrophe. That blockade has restricted and disrupted the import of food, fuel, and medical supplies as well as humanitarian aid. At the same time, Saudi Arabia has been carrying on a campaign of air strikes - over one-third of which have been against civilian targets such as schools, hospitals, markets, and mosques - that has been responsible for the destruction of infrastructure that has lead to the hunger and the cholera epidemic.

That is, Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a pattern of war crimes in Yemen.

And two, this would not be possible without the collusion of the US. We are actively aiding, abetting, and enabling war crimes in Yemen.

We are the ones who sell the Saudis the jets and the bombs.

We are the ones who helped with intelligence.

Sen. Chris Murphy
We are the ones who provided them with precision-guided weapons on the idea that they would help the Saudis to better avoid civilian targets only to, after discovering they were instead being used to better target civilian targets, nonetheless have now approved sending another $500 million worth of those weapons after an attempt in the Senate a couple of weeks ago to block the deal failed by a vote of 53-47.

The aid we give is even more direct: As Sen. Chris Murphy pointedly noted during the debate over that arms deal, "The Saudis simply could not operate this bombing campaign without us." Not only do we sell them the weapons, not only do we stand side by side with them when they are reviewing intelligence about targets, but "their planes can't fly without US refueling capacity."

The Saudi air war, the Saudi war crimes, could not happen without us. We are involved. We are guilty. We are guilty of war crimes in Yemen.

There is a move now in the House to bar the US from refueling Saudi jets. Frankly, while a worthy effort, the chances of that passing Congress and overcoming an inevitable veto are negligible.

So day after day, we are guilty of war crimes in Yemen. And the White House is prepared to encourage that while the Congress, it appears, is prepared to stand by and let it happen.

And that is truly an outrage.

27.5 - Clown Award: TheRump supporters

Clown Award: TheRump supporters

Next up, it's the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity. And oh, did we have some fun this week. So many that we can't even cover them all but I can only give you a couple of highlights.

There was, of course, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is determined to prove that his historically-low approval rating of 15% is higher than he deserves. Involved in a budget impasse with the legislature, he ordered state-owned beaches closed for the entire July 4th weekend - and then went to the beach at a house set aside for the use of the governor.

Then when asked at a news conference if he’d gotten any sun, he said “I didn’t. I didn’t get any sun today.”

Then when pictures of him on the beach went viral, his spokesman said he meant that “he had a baseball hat on,” that why he "didn't get any sun."

Then, when cornered, Christie said people upset about his bone-headed selfishness should "Run for governor." Because, you know, if people object, it's just because they're jealous. Certainly a worthy contender.

Then there is Faux News commentator Lisa Kennedy Montgomery, who responded to reports about how people would die if TheRump care is passed, dumping millions off of health insurance and so restricting their access to care, by saying who cares because "we're all gonna die."

But the winner was a last minute entry. So the Big Red Nose this week goes to: Donald TheRump supporters.

Rumpers
For the past 29 years, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” has observed the Fourth of July by having the show's hosts, reporters, newscasters, and commentators do a reading of the Declaration of Independence.

This year, NPR also tweeted out the Declaration, 140-character line by 140-character line.

So what happened? Backers of TheRump, who I suppose could be called Rumpers, who usually can be found ritually chanting "Make America Great Again" interspersed with accusation of how everyone to their left is un-American, didn't recognize the Declaration of Independence and accused NPR of "calling for revolution," "condon[ing] the violence" (of the Left, of course) and pushing "biased propaganda" and "trash," while references to George III as an "unworthy" leader were taken to be code for TheRump.

Even when people pointed out the source document for NPRs tweets, TheRump's Rumpers still claimed it all was bias on the part of NPR. Put another way, they are saying that the Declaration of Independence is anti-TheRump propaganda.

Which may be that far off, when I think about it.

TheRump's Rumpers, maybe not all of them but certainly more than enough of them: total clowns.

27.4 - Not Good News: Texas Supreme Court says states can deny benefits to same-sex couples

Not Good News: Texas Supreme Court says states can deny benefits to same-sex couples

Unfortunately, we have some Not Good News on the same topic of LGBTQ rights.

Same-sex marriage was not legal in Texas in 2013. Nonetheless, the city of Houston began extending the same spousal benefits it provided to married employees to employees who were partners in same-sex marriages who were married in one of the states where that was legal at the time.

Two Houstonites, backed by a group that opposes same-sex marriage, sued the city, claiming that those benefits amounted to using taxpayer money to subsidize "illegal activities."

The trial court agreed and issued an injunction against the city. But after Obergefell v. Hodges, the US Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the whole country, a Texas appeals court overturned that trial court decision and canceled the injuction, finding that under OvH, ss couples were entitled to equal treatment.

But now, on June 30, the Texas Supreme Court has reversed the appeals court and thrown the whole thing back to the trial court to start all over again. In a unanimous decision, the court declared that because Obergefell did not explicitly and in so many words say that “states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons,” that therefore the “reach and ramifications” of the decision is still being debated.

In short, the court ruled that "Just because we have to let you get married like any straight couple doesn't mean we have to treat you like any straight married couple and we can still discriminated against you - because we don't like you."

It's worth noting at this point the that all-GOPper Texas Supreme Court initially refused to take up the case, leaving the appeals court decision intact, until it got grief from the upper echelons of the Texas GOPper political hierarchy, which in essence effectively ordered the court to take it up, upon which the court did its best to do as it was told while keeping some vague shred of legal integrity intact by throwing the case back to the trial court rather than just ruling in favor of the haters of same-sex marriage.

But to show just how bizarre this ruling was, and how the justice must know how thuddingly wrong they are, they tried to prove that the “reach and ramifications” of Obergefell are still being worked out by pointing to two recent actions of the US Supreme Court. The first was taking the case of the baker who wouldn't bake a cake for a same-sex couple - which has nothing to do with spousal benefits or even same-sex marriage but is about if being a religious bigot frees you from the requirements of civil rights laws.

The second was reversing a ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that kept married same-sex couples from being treated the same as opposite-sex couples on their children’s birth certificates. The court said it reversed the ruling because the "differential treatment infringes Obergefell’s commitment to provide same-sex couples 'the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.'" Which would appear to directly contradict the Texas court's claim that Obergefell can be read as allowing for differential treatment.

The only good thing here is that I am confident that once this gets into federal court, it will be dealt with in short order. It's only too bad that the bozos, bigots, and buffoons who pursued it can't be made to offer some sort of compensation for the pain they have caused.
 
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